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Boulevard Big Band: Live at Harlings Upstairs

Jack Bowers By

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Although it has discarded the words "Kansas City that once preceded its name, the Boulevard Big Band is indeed the same hard-swinging group from America's heartland that has recorded three other superlative albums since it was formed in 1989. And if I were writing a promo ad for Live at Harlings Upstairs, its first-ever live recording, it would begin something like this: "New and improved formula! Now with Pete Christlieb added for extra strength and bonding power!

Christlieb, one of the West Coast's uncontested giants on the tenor sax, not only solos on five of nine tracks on Live at Harlings Upstairs, he also mans a chair in the reed section, thus helping make an already impressive unit sound even better. Impressive is the word for the rest of the band too, especially its sharp and persuasive rhythm section (pianist Roger Wilder, guitarist Rob Whitsitt, bassist Tim Brewer, drummer Todd Strait).

Christlieb submits his credentials without delay, crafting a torrid solo on Dave Aaberg's high-spirited "Peeve (based on "I Hear a Rhapsody ), and is equally dazzling on Wayne Shorter's "Black Nile, Bobby Troup's "The Meaning of the Blues, McCoy Tyner's "The Search for Peace and Chuck Tumlinson's "It's Not About You. But he has a lot of help in that area, primarily from altoist Hal Melia (on his own stellar arrangement of Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek ), flugels Fred Mulholland ("My One and Only Love ) and Jay Sollenberger ("If I Only Had a Brain ), trumpeter Aaberg ("About You ) and trombonists Steve Dekker ("Peeve, Lou Marini's "Alone ) and Paul McKee ("Black Nile ). If there are two more resourceful trombone soloists than Dekker and McKee in the same ensemble, I've yet to hear them.

Truth be told, there's a wealth of musical talent in the Kansas City area, and one must doff the fedora to trumpeter / leader Michael McGraw for making sure that a large part of it was present at Harlings to take part in this pulse-quickening concert. Another tip of the hat to Bill Crain and Josh Williams for producing one of the finest live recordings we've encountered in quite some time. The band sounds awesome, and the engineers deserve at least partial credit for that, as they've managed to capture, underline and balance perfectly every burst of energy and excitement generated by the ensemble.

This is, simply put, one of the finest big-band albums of the year, and should be high on every enthusiast's must-have list. It may even warrant consideration as a "desert island choice. As a rule, one seldom chances upon an album wherein every track is superb. Live at Harlings is an exhilarating departure from that rule.

Track Listing: Peeve; Cheek to Cheek; My One and Only Love; Black Nile; The Meaning of the Blues; If I Only Had a Brain; Alone; The Search for Peace; It

Personnel: Michael McGraw: leader, trumpet; Danny O

Title: Live at Harlings Upstairs | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Boulevard


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